Pennie Bisbee Walters
Shame: born July 4th, 1981
after Victoria Chang’s Obit
Snuck in like sewage under sandbags, the day the nurse switched off the woosh woosh that kept my love alive. nineteen, his brain too swollen to save. the phone broadcast its news, then looked the other way, dousing the shine of fireworks next door where hope went on living, heckled me from the yard, unlucky loser. I sensed the car’s speeding, tasted flames of fear. the windshield, unwilling to yield, said nothing. watched me sail over the car’s hood like a vanishing star soon to lose my light, hit by a drunk. for months two bright bombs flashed when I closed my eyes. for years loss was my name. for years I thought I’d had it coming. my mother’s silence gossiping in my waiting ear—were we partly to blame? crossing mid-street? one drink, I think, in us both? He Wasn’t Right for You, she said, subtle words of blame, her faulty math equating my act to love him with the drunk’s act to drive. her way to soften that first handshake with death. concussion, shattered leg. morphine, blessed drug of the patron saint of mercy. sailed for days. six months of casting, crutches then cane. thirty-odd pounds of plaster gone, I hobbled then ran, felt joy then guilt, proclaimed the world ugly, asked my mother why: Things Happen for a Reason, her tidy answer. decades later people still vanish like light at dusk, water into dirt, burned up or buried, my dad, son, even her. I want to shout No. Shit Happens. ask how she couldn’t see. how silence is a weapon too. but parents are just people and shame is just the black picture frame she planted me in. I grew up, told blame to fuck off and moved to blue-sky’d fields. I spread my arms wide in the sun, stomp on shame’s neck so it no longer whispers to me. Tell it, loving is good, no matter the end.
Lying awake in the clock’s green glow
My friend D. told me she’s afraid
to go to sleep. Letting go
of consciousness is too much
like death. She believes in nothing
after. I was raised to believe.
I think of beginnings
& metaphors & try to write this poem, watch
my thoughts pivot &
wrestle, though my body wants only to rest, to be lulled
by my husband’s soft snores.
In my twenties, I worked with a girl who’d married
her college professor then woke one morning to a still
body beside her.
If no one reads a poem
does it matter
that you wrote it?
After our son died
my husband wailed like a buck
cut open but I cried in secret lying
beside him. I tried not to shake the bed.
Is dying like sleep?
Why did I think
hiding grief could lessen it?
The day my dad died I believed in heaven, turned
to my sister & claimed He’s up there playing golf now yes yes
What if it’s just
My mom believed in ghosts, thought her dog
saw my dad’s spirit in the living
room. It stared at his chair
& barked. Maybe believing made her miss
but had she considered that life
of wandering? untethered
like a released balloon?
When my son died I wanted to believe
in heaven, to know he felt freed from his wanting
body, that I would see him again. Now
I wish for signs. That quick frigid breeze
at the beach one hot night.
Was he reaching out
are like titles, hard as stone. But this one
came fast. Laid before me
like a threshold.
In that jagged year of firsts
my husband’s family paid good money
to name a star after him. Thanks
I managed, holding the framed certificate,
still wrapped. What did they think
the purchase meant?
A star named Tim hanging alone
in the sky a million miles away,
the boy I once breathed for
Blue T-Shirt, XXL
What was it like to live in a tent,
that hammock on a hanger you hid
behind? Held you
like a swaddle, softness that begged
to be swaddled just like I used
to swaddle you. It’s the glide of a kiteboard on the ocean’s heft
of royal blue. Or
it’s the chainmail we were,
tight but giving enough. Standing sentry
like a smoke alarm
ready for cemental sacrifice
when the skateboard slipped out from under
your big clumsy feet. This shirt hit the highway
of your narrow hips
then passed them by like a wrong address,
headed south to your knees,
readied itself to bloom out in the wind, just let go
so air could flow across your ribs, bony
and mild, how you craved
a breeze on bare skin, on
your knees those raw
winter days when denim weighed
them down. Not like
this shirt. This shirt isn’t
a plumbing grate holding
you back. It’s the trap door
opened wide. In one quick swipe
drawing sauce from your cheek, catching
that trickle of elbow blood
when you raise your arms to jump
the curb or stair or ramp. Maybe
it’s the last bite of crumb cake left
on my plate. Maybe
my pair of slippers
Addiction as Lesson in Humility
How a downpour drenches in seconds. He was more, not less:
not lazy, misguided, weak.
Imagine you, the addict. Resist what your body
begs for, your cells
screaming out. Imagine
what would kill you. Then
reach for it still.
Lit spoon and flame. Needle
How much can one son take? One parent?
Rage like cracks in a windshield
cruel and misplaced.
His giving in, the giving over.
Do you think he gave up?
Jabbing release, then
the body still. One body out of pain
another drowning in it.
The point is:
isn’t life a gamble? DNA tossing us
like empty bags across the wind.
How quick we are, like a heartbeat.
That he was here. That I grew him inside me, tender as a root.
How I want to hold the rough grains of him to my lips, then
Him inside me still.
Pennie Bisbee Walters works as technical writer and is part of the Madwomen in the Attic writing community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Carlow University in December 2018, and her writing has appeared in Full Grown People and Voices in the Attic.